At a community dinner on Haida Gwaii, I sit across from Dolores. She grew up in this village, Skidegate, the youngest in a blended family of 17 children. By the time she came along, her father was weary of trying to manage teenagers. “I’m going to trust you not to smoke or drink. That’s all I can do is trust you,” he told her. She says she always hears his words, and has always wanted to live up to his trust in her. “I’ll have my first drink on my hundredth birthday,” she says. I ask when that will be. She thinks for a moment. “In 17 years.”
Like everyone over here, she is opposed to plans to send oil tankers down the coast through storm-prone waters and narrow, rocky channels. That is why we are all here, at this dinner: to raise funds for the legal battle the First Nations groups are waging against the government.
Dolores is a fighter in her way. She fought cancer with the plants her father taught her about. She struggled to raise a family on her own. She taught kindergarten. She worked for the government. She lived a long time in the interior, away from her people. Now she’s very much here and part of the community. When she gets up to talk to others, I see how fluidly she moves, despite arthritis. Many stop by: young, old, men, women. They hug, they kiss her cheek. “We hug a lot here,” she tells me. She used to have high blood pressure and decided to cure it with hugs. Now she doesn’t take the medication and she’s doing fine. When she asks about my shows, I pull out a string. “We used to play this when we were kids, here in the village!” she says excitedly as she works through the first moves of cat’s cradle.
Oh, and if you want to learn to dance? She teaches jive.